Detroit Environmental Agenda
Detroit Environmental Agenda Partners:
Visit the Detroit Environmental Agenda website HERE
During summer 2012, DWEJ, with partner organizations Michigan Environmental Council, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, WARM Training Center, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Recycle Here, Data Driven Detroit, and Zero Waste Detroit, will be holding meetings across the city to discuss with Detroit residents important issues around the environment and health. The State of the Environment Project aims to captivate and engage the public; draw out and vet big ideas; and establish a baseline understanding of Detroit’s environmental conditions, initiatives, and opportunities.
The meetings with inform Detroit’s first Detroit Environmental Agenda, which will document current environmental conditions in the city— and make the information publicly accessibly online through Data-Driven Detroit. This baseline report and public process will establish the foundation for creating a cohesive sustainability strategy.
DWEJ’s hope is that the Detroit Environmental Agenda will elevate environmental justice in Detroit’s first district-based City Council elections in November 2013. But the report itself is just one piece of the larger goal of bringing awareness to the role of a healthy environment in a vibrant Detroit.
The Detroit Environmental Agenda grew out of the Detroit Environmental Summit, held on May 5, 2011 at Gleaners Food Bank. The Summit brought together diverse stakeholders from across the city, including city officials, environmental groups, community members, and regional groups. It was organized to gather input to the Detroit Works Project, an initiative for short- and long-term planning for the city initiated under Mayor Dave Bing.
At the Detroit Environmental Summit, more than 150 attendees participated in breakout discussions on water, waste, air, energy and buildings, transportation, urban agriculture, and land use. It soon became clear that within these breakout groups, Detroiters were having similar conversations.
People repeatedly brought up cross-topic ideas such as transparency and valuing health in all of our decision-making. There was also the sense that all of the issue areas, which are often siloed, were interrelated. There is a lot of energy use in Detroit’s water system, for instance, and a lot of air quality issues associated with transportation.
What came out of the Detroit Environmental Summit—in addition to the working group for the State of the Environment Project—was a list of principles that bubbled up out of the conversations. Summit participants called for building on rather than replacing, and focusing on the existing human and physical assets of neighborhoods. They wanted opportunities for innovation and leadership and a holistic, integrated approach to action on environmental issues.
While some issues were clearly city-level, such as zoning and infrastructure, summit participants described wanting to be able to do more at the neighborhood and block level. They wanted to be able to easily get garden permits and create community gardens. They wanted to compost, recycle, and be energy efficient. Participants could envision a ‘lean model city’ in which city-level infrastructure would facilitate these kinds of local-level initiatives.
An excerpt from the Executive Summary:
What could Detroit’s future look like? Detroit is first and foremost an urban center, and it can be a great model of a 21st century city that protects and harnesses the power of natural systems while cultivating its built environment to be beautiful, safe, healthy, clean, and vibrant through sustainable practices and policies.
While many topic-specific solutions were raised during the breakout discussions, we would like to emphasize the great opportunity for revitalization through integrative solutions—those which efficiently and effectively address multiple challenges by considering entire systems and the interactions between systems.
For example, rethinking the way our city deals with water can address issues of vacant land, water quality, neighborhood livability, access to planned open space, flooding, energy consumption, and more. The current model is that of an enterprise department, seeking to maximize payment for use of services. However, we can imagine an alternative scenario where we teach and encourage home- and business-based strategies such as rainwater collection or graywater systems for use in toilets and showers, irrigation, dishwashing and cleaning, thereby reducing the energy and maintenance costs of piping drinking water for those purposes. We can also optimize our parks, gardens, lawns, creeks, lawns, trees, roofs, alleys and expansive open space to serve as a natural infrastructure system to reduce summer urban heat1 and filter stormwater back into our aquifers, keeping our streets dry, air clean, neighborhoods beautiful, river safe, and our wastewater treatment system a leaner, more efficient operation.